“Kitty barely had time to register the strange clothes, the unnatural grey pallor that tinged their skin, or the golden device that was being used to open some sort of magical portal…
“Her father deftly released an arrow. The man holding the object dropped to the ground instantly with Zander Fairlow’s arrow sticking out from his eye socket. Another had fallen before Kitty realised that battle had commenced, she allowed her instincts and training to take over.
“She was already a faster and more accurate archer than her father and her missiles flew effortlessly through the air towards their targets. Warned by a primal sense, Kitty dived down to the left. As she did so, a huge ball of flame exploded into the tree she had been stood beside just a second before. Caught between utter disbelief and a swift scramble to safety, she threw Zander a brief glance only to see that he was entirely focussed on their enemy.” – Heirs of Power by Kay MacLeod
Meet Author Kay MacLeod!
Confession time, I’m a fantasy addict! For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the concept of magical worlds. I was the kid with dragons doodled around the edge of her school work, the one with her head constantly buried in a book. As a teen, I shunned partying to play Magic the Gathering and DM Dungeons and Dragons games.
Through the years, I’ve always made up stories and took characters on amazing adventures, in the privacy of my own mind. Now I want to share them with other people.
I live with my husband and cat in Nottinghamshire in England. When I’m not writing (or planning something I’m writing) I’m usually working, reading, playing bass for my church’s worship team, playing computer games (World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Pokemon, Minecraft) or drinking tea.
Mmm, time to put the kettle on…
I can’t resist jumping right into Heirs of Power, your enticing first book in the Constellation Saga. How did you know when that title was right for your story? How did you pick your character’s names? What parts do you wait in glee for readers to get to?
Hi Becky, thanks for having me! I did struggle at first to find the right title for this novel, I tried to come up with something cool-sounding that followed a theme throughout the series. Then I thought about linking each one to a character, or a significant object in that book. But none of these felt right, so I decided the best way to name it was to describe the entire book in as few words as I possibly could. So, I dug down to the core focus- this isn’t about a single person, there’s a group of people that have all inherited different powers and a responsibility to protect their world. It felt right to have a title that included everyone.
Names are really important to me and I brainstorm huge lists for each character before I settle on one. I also keep a note of any interesting names I hear in real life in case I want to use them later. To choose the right one for each character is more of a feeling for me, I think about who they are and what their name should show about them. I’ve had people ask why I chose a sweet name like Kitty for my main character when she’s tall, muscular, and a skilled fighter, but the thing is- she’s a Kitty on the inside. I think names should go deeper than what the character looks like.
Chapter five has to be the first point I’m excited for people to get to, it introduces my favourite character and by then all of the groundwork for the rest of the novel has been set. Everyone can read the first five chapters on the books section of my website, and I think by then you’ll know if the rest of the book is for you. There are a few other real character-defining moments that I love when people read and talk to me about, to me the characters are everything. I do enjoy the action scenes and big reveals but my favourite parts are when we get to know a person better.
You’ve mentioned how Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was a pivotal force in your teen years. Do you still play? Would you recommend D&D, Magic the Gathering, or similar games for kids who want to write fantasy?
I wish I still had time to play! But working full-time while trying to pump out epic fantasy novels doesn’t give you much in the way of free time. I used to play one night a week but I was usually the dungeon master so that involves a lot of preparation during the week too. I think both D&D and MTG are fantastic games to play for all fantasy lovers.
MTG is great because they release new expansions every year that are based in different worlds and they have novels set there and backgrounds to the worlds on their website. The artwork is absolutely beautiful and inspiring just by itself. The gameplay is complex and always changing, it’s good for getting your brain used to coming up with creative solutions and thinking in abstract ways. It’s the kind of game where if you’re clever and thoughtful you can beat someone that has better cards with ones that seem rubbish when looked at individually- it’s my favourite game ever!
D&D is the ultimate storyteller’s game though, especially as a dungeon master. The dungeon master’s role is that you build a world, design every element within it like you would a fantasy novel- people, places, a quest to follow. Then the players come along, create a character each and do whatever they please, go wherever they want, mine usually end up in wrong place and having a fight with someone. You have to describe the settings and design things on the fly, and well enough to keep four or five other people engaged and entertained for a few hours. I’ve based some games in worlds I have novels planned for and adore having real people explore them and ask questions I never thought about and go into areas I’ve not developed. It’s like verbally writing a book live and the main characters really do have minds of their own.
If you don’t have the confidence to pull off a dungeon master role, joining as a player is still useful as a writer. When you create a character, you have to stay in character for the whole game- speak as they would, come up with solutions they would, think as they would. When you spend that much time as a different person it helps to understand the depth you need to apply to people in your stories. Okay, I’ll stop now, I could talk about gaming all day!
I love that you play bass. When did it first captivate you? Do you have anything recorded? Do you find that playing bass helps generate story ideas, and/or that writing gets the music flowing?
I love playing! I got into rock/metal music when I was about 12 or 13 and that was the first time I really listened to anything that wasn’t mainstream pop, my family would have all the music video channels on and I thought the bassists always looked so cool with their huge guitars, haha. The chunky sound appealed to me too, and I had a lot of friends who were musicians so I got one to teach me the basics and how to play slap- because that is the coolest thing about bass, right?
I keep music and writing separate, my brain is going a million miles an hour most of the time with stories and characters, but then when I play bass I lose myself in it. I play as part of the band for my church, so I’m really blessed that I get to play live music every other week, it’s such a good feeling to go so deep that you forget anyone is watching and get lost in the rhythm and the lyrics of worship. I only play live, and I don’t have any recordings but I’ll attach a bonus picture of me on bass–yes that is on my wedding day, I don’t usually dress like that to play. 😉
The “Books” part of your website really takes readers into the fantasy world you’ve created. How did you settle on this particular design? How easy was it to set up?
I have a husband who works in IT so it wasn’t hard to set up for me… He helps me out a lot with anything remotely techie, he’s the best!
I’m the sort of reader that’s never satisfied with what I have, if I finish a book and love it, I scour the internet for any other novels set in that world or short stories the author has or the tiniest little extra snippets on their website. I figured that if I’m like that then other people probably are too, so I wanted to put some little extras on there for them. I think the page also work as a good introduction to someone who hasn’t read any of The Constellation Saga yet.
You clearly love fantasy and fantasy loves you! Do you ever see yourself branching out into other genres?
I think I’ll branch into other genres but in fantasy settings, for me it’s too much of what I love about reading and writing not to include it. I have a series in the works about a kind of magical police force set in a fantasy world so there will be elements of mystery to it- just with an ice mage, a werewolf, and a fairy leading the investigations. A spin off from that will be an adventure series with a bit of Indiana Jones styling except including a half-elf, a fire spirit, and a gorgon (plus a baby sphinx) I’ve got some basic ideas for a sci-fantasy too so we’ll see where that goes.
Besides making sure your books will look the way they should, what things about Amazon Publishing do you pay the most attention to (reviews, sales rank, what people buy after they buy your books, etc.)?
I’d have to say it’s the reviews. You need certain amounts to take advantage of some promotion sites so I do go on now and again to check how I’m doing in that area. Plus, it’s always a boost to see that someone has enjoyed your work!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I read them. I think that it’s good to see what people think of your novels, if you’re the sort of author that can see them as just an opinion. The fact is, writing is art and no kind of art is universally adored. I use positive reviews as a way to find out what I’m doing right, if a lot of people are saying they like the same thing I know to keep doing that style of writing or kind of development. I also use them as fuel- I have a page in my Evernote account where I copy or write down every good thing people say about my work and when I’m having an ‘I’m a terrible author, what am I doing with my life?’ kind of day, I read it back.
Negative reviews can be useful to know where to improve, but I’m honest with myself anyway. I analysed my strengths and weaknesses before I published anything and I know the areas I need to get better in, it makes it hurt less when they are picked out by someone else if you’ve already accepted you need to practice more with certain elements.
When a new story comes to mind, do you see the whole high-level plot roll out before you, or do you see it as more of a first sentence / initial concept (or both, or something else)?
Again, it’s about character for me. I usually have someone before I have something for them to do or somewhere to put them. Though sometimes it’s not even a whole character, maybe a cool idea for a power or a pose that evokes the feeling of who this person is. Sometimes they go into the idea list to use within something I already have and other times they spark an entire world.
My sister showed me a photo she’d taken of someone the other day and I was like ‘I need to make a character out of him’ I’ve no idea which story he will go in or what he’ll do but when you’re interested in a person, there’s always going to be a place for them.
Then a few days ago at work a name popped into my head ‘Magenta Rose’ and I wanted to make a story with her because she sounded intriguing. I outlined a whole novel with her in my head that day that fits in with some other stuff I’m working on and through it managed to develop a fantasy race I’ve been playing with! It started small in my head but exploded from that one idea.
How do you feel about fan-fiction? Would you want people to write fan-fiction about your stories?
I adore fan-fiction. The only reason I haven’t written any myself is that I have too much of my own stuff to work on. Though the only fanfics I’ve read are Pokémon ones, and they were amazing. I love the Pokémon games but I wished the stories were more gripping and intense- the fanfic community came through haha. I even have a couple of outlines for my own- when I get to escape my day job and write full-time they may get a bit of attention.
I would be so flattered if people loved my stories enough that they wanted to write about them, it’s the same as fanart but a different medium in my opinion. And it would make my day to see either.
What are you planning to launch next?
The Mage-Lord’s Legacy, book two of The Constellation Saga! I’m on the big, final push with the first draft and I’m hoping to finish by the end of next month. Though after rewrites, editing, betas etc. it will likely be towards the end of the year that it’s available.
Now for some just-for-fun challenge questions…
What type of book do you reach for to relax?
Would it surprise you if I said fantasy?
Name a movie adaptation that really should have stayed as a book.
The Scorch Trials! I could write an essay on why that film absolutely destroyed anything good about the story, I got to 40 mins in and turned to my husband to say, ‘not a single thing that’s happened so far was in the book.’ They changed everything for the worse, took away any reasoning for the things that happened in the first film/book (The Maze Runner) and all the characters were so bland that if they hadn’t have said each other’s names, I wouldn’t have been able to tell who was supposed to be playing each one. That movie was a disaster.
What’s the first computer game you loved? Would you say that computer games stimulate creativity in other areas?
Aahhh, so many, don’t make me pick. I remember playing Final Fantasy games as a kid and loving them. VII first but I was a bit young to appreciate it, I got X as a Christmas present when it came out and clocked up 26 hours on it by Boxing Day evening, that was a quality game. Neverwinter Nights introduced to me to my ultimate favourite game style, it’s just like D&D on your PC, such incredible characters and storylines. Tibia was my first taste of MMOs but then I played Rohan Online with a guy who was then my friend and now my husband, we moved onto World of Warcraft soon after though. Can we do an interview just about gaming?
I know many people have a lot of bad things to say about computer games, it always astounds me that these seem to be the same people that spend hours in front of their TV. I find most programmes are uninspired and mind numbing, but gaming is interactive and engaging. It definitely helps with creativity, especially the sprawling RPGs that are packed with lore, well-developed characters and stunning scenery. I think most games have some benefit to them though, whether that’s planning, reaction times, problem solving, memory improvement or even presenting ethical decisions to consider. Just don’t forget you need to go outside sometimes! (That’s what a Nintendo DS is for ;D)
When you get a story idea, do you scribble it on any scrap of paper or napkin you can find, or do you have a special notebook or online tool where you keep all the inspiration?
I use Evernote for all my ideas. It’s very conveniently on my phone so it’s always there when I have a flash of inspiration that I need to get out. It lets you split up your notes into books and stacks so I can keep things for each novel and series together. My whole life would be a mess without that app.
While we’re not saying you need this, what one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Can I just give up my day job now, please? Epic fantasy takes a long time to write!
Advice time–in reverse! If you could go back in time, what writerly advice would you give yourself?
Start now! I wanted to write when I was younger but I wasn’t sure if I could or if people would be interested in what I had to say. I’ve learned that writing isn’t a magic thing you either have or don’t, it’s a skill that you get better at like any other, and the sooner you begin, the sooner you improve.